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NBC'S FIRST LIVE BULLETINS AND LIVE COVERAGE OF THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY
David Brinkley, Joe Franklin, Chet Huntley, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Frank McGee, John F. Kennedy, Irving R. Levine, Merriman Smith, Charles Murphy, Don Pardo, Barry Goldwater, Richard Valeriani, Charles Brehm, Bill Ryan, Robert MacNeil, Jeff Pond, Ed Silverman, Tom Whalen, Phil Gries, Ron Simon, Andrew K. Franklin, Bill Mackey, Samuel Brylawski
Gries preserved lost NBC coverage of JFK assassination
NBC television recorded over 70 hours and 25 minutes of coverage on
President John F. Kennedy's assassination beginning on November 22nd
and ending on November 25th, 1963.
However, NBC failed to record the first two NBC television
bulletins on Nov. 22, the first a local WNBC (NYC) TV bulletin, voiced by Don Pardo, at 1:45:03 to 1:45:30pm EST (27 seconds) & then an NBC NATIONAL bulletin at 1:46:45 - 1:47:53pm EST (68 seconds), and then subsequently an initial 3 minutes & 53 seconds of continuous coverage by Frank McGee, Chet Huntley and Bill Ryan, commencing at 1:53:12 to 1:57:05pm EST, before NBC TELEVISON began televising picture and sound, and preserving the broadcast, rolling 2" Quad Video Tape, the first Network to do so (Both CBS and ABC began continuous coverage was at 2:00pm EST).
Amazingly, when there existed over 50 million television sets in the USA, ONLY Phil Gries, from his Brooklyn New York home, was in a position to audio tape record first NBC television coverage of these initial world changing historic broadcast events off the air, at the moment when the television generation came of age.
The Kennedy Assassination coverage on television set a new standard for how breaking national stories could be delivered on TV. It was only in September 1963, that networks expanded their nightly news programs from 15 minutes to half-hour long broadcasts. Within an hour of the shooting, 68 percent of Americans had heard the news; within two hours, 92 percent had heard, and half of them found out from TV or radio.
NBC TV clocked the most on air hours (70 hours 25 minutes) during its four day coverage, followed by ABC TV (60 hours), and CBS TV (55 hours). CBS used 600 employees, ABC used 500 employees, and NBC used 400 employees to televise their coverage all at an estimated cost of $225 million by todays value.
Since 1963 the Television industry has greatly refined and expanded its abilities to deliver big and breaking stories, but with competition from the internet and social media, it will unlikely ever again hold a nation's attention the way it did that November weekend in 1963, when the first NBC TV bulletins broadcast by Don Pardo were to be the only historic recordings extant in broadcast history, recorded by one individual recording those historic moments on a tape recorder at his home in Brooklyn, New York.
Phil Gries, founder and owner of Archival Television Audio Inc. used "American" Brand 1/4" reel to reel audio tape, recording, direct line, on his 1959 WEBCOR Stereo 1/4" reel to reel audiotape recorder (speed 3&3/4" IPS) which was connected to a 1949 ANDREA television set during the actual live NBC television broadcast.
These historic soundtracks were donated by Phil Gries to the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, MA, in 1995 (through archivist Bill Mackey), to Sam Brylawski representing The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. in 1997, and to archivist Ron Simon representing The Paley Center for Media in 2006.
In addition, Archival Television Audio, Inc. duplicated a copy
of these peerless bulletins and initial coverage to a stunned Don Pardo in 1998 on his 80th birthday...now confirming by ear and believing that a broadcast recording of his bulletins exist and not just as a memory. His May 1998 phone conversation with Phil Gries, recounting his memories announcing the first NBC TV bulletins can be heard on You Tube and on the ATA website (www.atvaudio.com)
Page at URL above contains letter from Gries describing how he taped
the first four minutes of the NBC coverage. NBC did not archive this
portion of its coverage, but Gries taped it and preserved it.
In November 2013 these peerless recordings were donated by Phil Gries to Andrew K. Franklin, Senior Producer of NBC NIGHTLY NEWS for use on their 50th anniversary telecast, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS (November 22, 2013).
David Von Pein was given these recordings to be used on his definitive JFK website (http://dvp-video-audio-archive.blogspot.com) and uploaded to you tube in 2013.
These first live NBC News Bulletins by Don Pardo would precede regular program cancellations and continuous NBC live coverage of this 20th century tragedy (the assassination of President John F. Kennedy) for the next three and a half days. The first two bulletins are heard. Bulletin number one (Local in NYC) is broadcast at 1:45:03 PM EST and airs for 27 seconds. Bulletin number two (National) is broadcast at 1:46:45 and airs for 68 seconds, followed by the first two hours of uninterrupted News coverage with NBC anchors Bill Ryan, Chet Huntley and Frank McGee. Seventy-one hours and twenty-seven minutes of continuous coverage begins with voice only on NBC at 1:53:12 PM, developing into picture and voice at 1:57:05 PM with CBS and ABC both starting their live continuous live on air person coverage at 2:00pm EST. The American Broadcasting Company was the first to go on air (RADIO) at 1:36:50pm EST voicing a bulletin by Don Gardiner. Like CBS TV, ABC TV came on with their first on air TV bulletin with logo slide being shown at 1:40 PM, and 1:41pm respectively. ABC would further have three more Bulletins all four voiced by Ed Silverman between 1:41 and 2:00pm before going live with video and tape rolling at 2:00pm. NBC TV actually went live with video and audio at 1:57:05 pm and as confirmed on Phil Gries' audio air check recorded off the air on to his television set with adjoining tape recorder, we hear a station identification BEEP at 2:00 pm (further provenance of this tape's authentic origin) which is NOT heard on the extant NBC TV recorded direct feed video tape that we are all familiar with and which resides in the National Archives. Furthermore, the Gries original audio tape has additional recorded audio material NOT originally duplicated and given as donations detailed above, or ever distributed or shared by anyone.
There are live telephone reports from correspondent Robert MacNeil in Dallas, Texas. There are additional reports from Charles Murphy, David Brinkley and Marvin Agronsky. There is live coverage from the United Nations where the Secretary General expresses sorrow to all members of the Kennedy Family and to all the people in the United States. One minute of silence is observed by all delegates from the 111 member nations. There is continuing NBC coverage from station WBAP, the affiliate in Fort Worth, Texas with Newsman Tom Whalen. Eyewitness Charles Brehm recounts what he saw. There is the first live overseas report from Irving R. Levine from Rome and live coverage from outside the NBC building at Rockefeller Center, with its Mobile Unit searching out reactions from New Yorkers with reporter Jeff Pond. Correspondent Richard Valeriani reports live from the White House. There are statements from Senator Barry Goldwater and from former President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It took an incident of this proportion to catapult television into the forefront as the world's number one communicator of news and special events. Television had come of age.
"FOUR DAYS: THE HISTORICAL RECORD OF THE DEATH OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY" compiled by The United Press International (Published by American Heritage Publishing Company, copyright 1964) details (reproductions of his teletype bulletins) United Press International's Merriman Smith, dean of the White House correspondents, description of his frantic rush to call the Dallas UPI bureau and communicate first reports of the JFK shooting. It was his UPI copy that came off an NBC Teletype machine in a newsroom in NYC that was read by Don Pardo.
Because in 1963 it took an NBC camera 11 minutes to become "active," transmitting a visual signal, an NBC Bulletin Card was viewed at first by those tuning in to this station. It was chaotic on NBC where staff announcer Don Pardo made the first mention of the shooting. News reporter Frank McGee was pressed into service and was receiving his information over the phone from correspondent Robert McNeil in Dallas.
TRIVIA NOTE: NBC's staff announcer Don Pardo's first local WNBC-TV bulletin interrupted the telecast of a Bachelor Father re-run which originally aired on May 26, 1960) Season 3, Episode 35 titled 'Bentley and the Beach Bum.' Also, interesting to note that on this day only three television programs broadcast LIVE prior to the assassination, none at the time when the shooting occurred. They were THE TODAY SHOW (NBC 7:00-9:00am, THE JOE FRANLKIN SHOW (WOR 12:15-1:30pm), and TELL US MORE (WNBC 1:00-1:30pm).
NBC's television coverage, although informative, did not match the gravitas of Walter Cronkite at his desk at CBS Television, who would be visually seen on the air beginning at 2:00pm Eastern Standard Time, informing the country of the death of the president as he removed his glasses and struggled with his emotions.
Surprisingly, in the end, more people tuned into NBC’s coverage, anchored by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, than Walter Cronkite and the CBS crew. It would be several years before Cronkite was able to overtake NBC’s popular anchor duo in the ratings.
The first two NBC Television Bulletins (the first local WNBC, and the second National NBC) and the initial 3:53 seconds of continuous NATIONAL coverage commencing at 1:53:05pm EST was never recorded by NBC or by any other known broadcasting station or broadcasting archive. Amazingly, the only existing broadcast recording in the world of NBC'S TV historic television transmission was audio recorded off the air by Phil Gries, founder of Archival Television Audio, Inc., viewing his 1949 Andrea television at that moment, and fortuitously pushing the record button on his Webcor Stereophonic 1/4" reel to reel audio tape recorder during the actual live Television Broadcast.
To date, no other audio or video has ever surfaced documenting these moments, an incredible fact since 50 million American homes approximating 200 million viewers were tuned in to their television set comprehending that the President of the United States was shot in Dallas. In today's digital world where every minutia event is recorded and preserved, it is mind boggling to this archivist that I uniquely recorded a television broadcast related to an assassination of an American President, at a time in 1963, when there were over 55 million television sets in the homes of people living in the United States.
These historic sound tracks have been donated to the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, MA, The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and The Paley Center for Media in NY and LA. The November 22, 1963 John F. Kennedy NBC-TV assassination bulletins and the initial lost 3:53 seconds of NBC live coverage are the most significant treasure in our archive. They personify just a part of the many thousands of other Archival Television Audio original, off the air, television soundtracks which represent the only record of a specific TV broadcast known to exist. Archival Television Audio, Inc. is the largest repository in the world collecting, preserving and archiving "lost" vintage TELEVISION BROADCASTS surviving as AUDIO ONLY, focusing and representing the years 1946 thru 1982. The ATA website (www.atvaudio.com) initiated in 2002 offers the public access to searching for tens of thousands of programs by title, performer, and date.
TIMELINE of the John F. Kennedy assassination
Television and Radio Coverage
(from 1:36 p.m. EST - 2:00 p.m. EST)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The first national news bulletin of the shooting came over the ABC Radio Network at 12:36:50pm CST/1:36:50pm EST. The most complete recording of the initial ABC bulletins came from WRUL, a New York-based station transmitting to Latin America and Europe on shortwave, which was featuring a program of MOR album music when the shooting took place. At the time, Doris Day's recording of "Hooray for Hollywood", from the 1937 musical film Hollywood Hotel, was playing, when newscaster Don Gardiner broke in with the developments:
We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin from ABC Radio. [Takes a short pause] Here is a special bulletin from Dallas, Texas: (Reading UPI bulletin) 'THREE SHOTS WERE FIRED AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S MOTORCADE TODAY IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS, TEXAS.' This is ABC Radio. To repeat: 'in Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade today.' The president now making a two-day speaking tour of Texas. We're going to stand by for more details on the incident in Dallas. Stay tuned to your ABC station for further details. Now, we return you to your regular program.
4 minutes after ABC's radio bulletin, CBS was the first to break the news over television at 12:40pm CST/1:40pm EST. The network interrupted its live production broadcast of "As the World Turns" with a "CBS News Bulletin" bumper slide and Walter Cronkite, reporting from the CBS Radio flash booth, filed an audio-only report. Immediate live video of Cronkite wasn't possible at that time, as no camera in the CBS newsroom was active and ready. TV cameras of that era used image orthicon tubes which took approximately 20 minutes to warm up.
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas.' The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting. More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously: President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called 'Oh, no!' The motorcade sped on. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News: 'President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas.' Stay tuned to CBS News for further details."
Initially, the live broadcast of "As the World Turns," which included commercials, continued, with the actors unaware of the earlier pre-emption for the bulletin. Cronkite later filed two bonus audio-only bulletins to interrupt programming, the last of which interrupted a Friskies dog food commercial and pre-empted the remaining running time of As the World Turns. Only the bulletin bumper remained on screen while a television camera warmed up, until 2:00 p.m. EST. Cronkite stated in a later interview that this event was responsible for a new CBS network policy of always having a "hot camera" available to the newsroom to avoid this difficulty in the future.
At that time, As the World Turns was the runaway top-rated daytime show, and ABC and NBC made no concerted effort to compete with CBS in the time slot; as a result, the other television networks weren't on the air in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Various programs were being broadcast through their affiliate stations. From their main headquarters in New York, WABC-TV's first bulletin came from Ed Silverman at 1:41 p.m. EST, interrupting reruns of The Ann Sothern Show on the East Coast and Father Knows Best in the Mountain Time Zone. ABC-TV was not feeding programming to its affiliates in the Pacific Time Zone at that hour. At the same time of ABC-TV's first bulletin, NBC Radio reported the first of three "Hotline Bulletins", each preceded by a "talk-up alert" which gave all NBC-affiliated stations 30 seconds to join their parent network.
Three minutes later, at 1:45:03pm EST Don Pardo broke into WNBC-TV's local rerun of "Bachelor Father" with the news, saying (reading AP bulletin) 'PRESIDENT KENNEDY WAS SHOT TODAY JUST AS HIS MOTORCADE LEFT DOWNTOWN DALLAS. MRS. KENNEDY JUMPED UP AND GRABBED MR. KENNEDY. SHE CRIED 'OH NO!' THE MOTORCADE SPED ON.' (Videotape of the NBC bulletins have been assumed "lost" as they did not start recording coverage until minutes later. However, audio engineer Phil Gries rolled tape on a set of audio recordings on a 1/4" reel to reel audiotape recorder. These have been donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. However, NBC, in its book on the coverage of the assassination, mentioned the bulletins, as stated on the Associated Press wire report from which Don Pardo read.) At 1:53:12pm (EST), NBC broke into programming with an NBC Network bumper slide and Chet Huntley and Bill Ryan began informing the viewers what was going on as it happened. However, NBC's camera was not ready and the coverage was limited to audio-only reports as recorded by Phil Gries (3 minutes & 53 seconds), as CBS' coverage had been to that point. Other than for two audio-only bulletins (one following the initial report), ABC TV did not break into its stations' programming at all, instead waiting until the network was to return to broadcasting at 2:00pm Eastern Standard Time to begin its coverage.
At 1:57:05pm EST, just as Frank McGee joined the reporting, NBC began broadcasting the report as their camera was ready and working. Three minutes later, at 2:00pm EST, CBS' camera was finally ready and Cronkite appeared on the air after a brief station break, with ABC beginning its coverage at the same time. Radio coverage was reported by Don Gardiner (ABC), Allan Jackson (CBS), and (after a top-of-the-hour newscast) by Peter Hackes and Edwin Neuman (NBC).
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